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The Sad, Public Struggles of Etika and More Shocking YouTube Star Tragedies

Reminders of the importance of mental health awareness, especially among the YouTube set, have poured in since the body of the 29-year-old gamer was found in New York, five days after he went missing

By Natalie Finn Jun 26, 2019 4:15 PMTags
Watch: Remembering Etika: YouTubers React to His Death

Fame, online trolling and fragile mental health can be a combustible combination.

The search for Desmond Amofah, a YouTube personality and gamer known as Etika—known for his humorous and profane takes on video games that attracted more than 845,000 subscribers but also for sharing content that got him kicked off of Twitch and, on a few occasions, YouTube—came to a sad ending Monday night when his body was found floating in the water near Manhattan's South Street Seaport.

The 29-year-old had been missing since June 19 and friends and fans had been deeply concerned that he was going to harm himself because, thanks to social media, they were acutely aware of his struggles. YouTube and Reddit promptly turned into content hubs for people digging into Etika's disappearance as they shared theories and tidbits about his last days, wondering what had happened to him and recalling recent turmoil.

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Celebrity Deaths: 2019's Fallen Stars

What appears to be his last social media post, which he shared right before he went missing, is making the rounds online and in it he says, as he's walking, "I'm sorry I betrayed your trust. I'm sorry I pushed you all away. I'm sorry I had made a clown of myself. I apologize. I wish it didn't have to be this way.

"But unfortunately, I'm breaking my own rules...I shouldn't have pushed so many people away. Now I've got nobody."

Judging by the outpouring of condolences online, that wasn't true—but that rarely makes a difference when someone is determined to harm himself.

That being said, no cause of death has been determined yet and the investigation is ongoing, according to the NYPD.

After his YouTube channel vanished in April, Etika scared his followers with what sounded like suicidal thoughts, tweeting, "Savonarola! I'm going to kill myself! You lot certainly have already. Shame on you all, silly humans." He also tweeted, per The Daily Dot, "I am about to shoot myself in the forehead, with a pistol I purchased from a gun shop in long island. Bury me in Broooooooooooooooooooooooooooooklyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyynnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnn."

etika via Instagram

His friend, gamer Alice Pika, chimed in, "He's being sent to the hospital, I'm not saying where. He's physically UNHARMED. I'm letting his loved ones know. Pray for him."

Nine days later, he tweeted, "Back! Sorry for scaring ya with that tweet. Being born and raised on the dark side of the internet, I sometimes go too far in my attempts at edgy shock humor. I've apologized on similar instances in the past I know, so just trust when I say I learned my lesson. CUSOON!"

He added, "Deleted my channel because it got a copyright strike a few weeks back for a piece of music that played from a video I watched while on stream. I forgot to delete the vod, and it got a strike the day after. Meaning I couldn't stream on frfx anymore. Decided to do 1 channel then." 

Etika said he was again posting to his original channel, TR1Iceman, which currently has upward of 136,000 followers.

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Etika made news at the end of April when he livestreamed being detained by police (Pika tweeted: "Quick Etika update: A doctor just called me. He has NOT been arrested, he's not going to jail. He's at the mental ward of a hospital again, not saying where. I gave her as much information as I could that would make sure he STAYS in there for longer than a day!!!") and then sat down for an interview with Drama Alert vlogger Keem that took an immediate turn for the dark.

"Death means nothing," Etika said. "Why are you all so scared of death for?...Everything that you've done in your life, Keemstar, was all leading up to this moment. Where you can broadcast the start of the beginning of the rise of the known antichrist. I am the antichrist, I am the one who brings death to all."

NYPD CRIME STOPPERS

Asked if his recent erratic behavior was authentic or if he was putting on an act for attention and clicks, Etika said, "No, this is my world. You are playing in my game." After he was detained, "I went, I became God, and I walked out."

Keem tweeted before the chat was posted, "Recorded a interview with @Etika He started yelling & RAGE QUIT! He mad cus i called him out for being WEAK!"

But Keem has also mused openly about the effects that the sort of viral, 24/7 exchange with fans and trolls that is at the heart of social media-fueled fame is having on YouTube stars' mental health—and he was among those tweeting at YouTube today to make sure Etika's "I'm sorry" video wasn't taken down.

In the meantime, Etika isn't the only one whose story has ended badly after finding—or sometimes just seeking—fame on YouTube, a medium that has rewarded not just the talented and enterprising, but also the outrageous, the shocking, the bizarre and even the dangerous with clicks, likes, attention, adulation and, in some cases, money.

It's a platform by the people, for the people—for better or worse.

Steve Cash

The 40-year-old, who had made a YouTube name for himself with his "Talking Kitty" series, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound on April 16.

"This is so hard. I'm not even sure what to say, or for that matter, what to do," his wife Celia DeCosta Cash, wrote on Facebook. "I just lost my best friend, my sidekick, my lover, my mentor, my absolute everything, this morning. I'm so sad to say, my husband, Steve Cash took his own life this morning 4/16/2020. It hurts me to share this. Please understand, give the family time to grieve, but know that Steve is no longer in pain."

Cash had made comments in the past about being bipolar, once candidly telling one of the 2.4 million subscribers who came for the lighthearted videos he'd been making since 2007 that he'd been posting more than usual lately because he was in the middle of a manic episode. "When I go back into depression I'll vacate everything," he added.

Corey La Barrie

On May 10, his 25th birthday, the YouTuber was a passenger in a McLaren being driven by Ink Masters' Daniel Silva when the tattoo artist, who'd been drinking and was speeding, lost control of the car and plowed into a stop sign and then a tree. La Barrie died of his injuries and Silva has since been sentenced to a year in jail and five years' probation after pleading no contest to one count of gross vehicular manslaughter.

He was originally charged with murder before striking that plea deal. Silva's lawyer said that they were pleased that his client avoided a state prison sentence, but "this is no time to celebrate. A bright light has been lost in Corey, and Daniel will always strive to live up to his dear friend's memory."

 

Nicole Thea

The 24-year-old dancer and accessories designer, who had been updating tens of thousands of YouTube subscribers on her pregnancy, died suddenly on July 11 at her home in Yorkshire, England, her family announcing the news the next day on Instagram. She was eight months pregnant and the son she and partner Global Boga had planned to name Reign also died.

They didn't share any more details at the time, but an uncle told the Daily Mail that his niece seemed to have had a massive heart attack. "She had it in her house and she was telling her partner that she had pains in her chest and her back," Charles Murray said. "Nicole was saying that she was struggling to breathe. She was struggling with her chest—she had a pain in her chest. It is so surreal as she was so young. It is such a shock. It has really, really shaken us all up...She is a dancer and we don't think she had any underlying health problems. It is terrible—but we won't know for sure until we have the post-mortem."

In November Boga returned to Thea's YouTube channel with a video he filmed from inside his car, saying he wouldn't be commenting specifically on the events of that day, but shaking his head and saying multiple times that "the world is so f--ked up."

The Ghana Boyz artist said he just couldn't believe it "and the reason why I can't believe it is because, we did so many checks that, we went to the hospital so many times, she had so many appointments. I was there every single time...and not once—not one, not one—did we hear that there was something we needed to worry about or come get a checkup or something. There's so much in my head going on that doesn't make sense, because Nicole could have lived. My wife [by multiple accounts they weren't actually married] could have lived, my son could have lived, as well. They really could have lived, they both could have lived."

He expressed disbelief that it had taken three months to get the official word that Nicole had died of a heart attack, and reiterated how angry he was that they were never given any indication that something might be wrong with her.

Landon Clifford

The 19-year-old patriarch of the Cam&Fam video series was declared brain dead on Aug. 18 after spending six days in a coma—which, his wife revealed, was due to suicide.

"Behind the scenes, he was always just kind of going through his own stuff," Camryn Clifford explained in a video. "He has had mental health issues for as long as I have known him."

She said that Landon started to fall into a depression when she was pregnant with their second child, Delilah Rose, who was born in May, joining sister Collette Briar in the family fold. The couple had been married since June 2019. 

Her husband sought help, Camryn said, but he started abusing the drugs he was prescribed to treat ADHD and anxiety. "It was a lethal mixture of these two very strong, heavy drugs… He just kind of fell in a hole," she continued. "He just kept taking more and more for his body to feel the effects. It was very unhealthy." He seemed "really happy" after Delilah was born, she said, and things started to look up, but on Aug. 13 Landon excused himself to take a bath but instead went out to the garage, where Camryn found him unresponsive.

Registered as an organ donor, "He donated everything," Camryn said. "He wanted to save as many people as possible. He always put others above himself. Even in death, he was caring about people."

The now single mother of two returned to YouTube in November for the first time since sharing Landon's story in August, thanking her "Camily" for all of their love and support. "To know that his story had such an impact on so many people's lives makes me feel just a little bit better about everything that's gone on... I needed that." She was busily trying to adjust to her new life and focusing on her girls, and they had moved to Florida to live with her sister.

Lloyd Cafe Cadena

The 26-year-old author, radio DJ and YouTuber who had more than 5.8 million subscribers for his song parodies, challenges and pranks, cooking demos, LC Learns segments and more witty life hacks died in September of a heart attack, days after being diagnosed with coronavirus, according to his family.

"Lloyd was confined in the hospital on September 1 due to high fever and dry cough. He was tested for COVID-19 on the same day which the result came out positive on September 3," they wrote on Instagram. "On September 4, [5 a.m.] he was seen by the staff unresponsive and pale looking. As informed by the doctor, he suffered a heart attack while asleep. He was cremated yesterday and his remains is in our house in Cavite in the meantime."

Emily Hartridge

The British YouTuber and up-and-coming TV presenter, who as Emily Hart served up takes on everything from movies to dating and mental health, died of injuries suffered when her electric scooter collided with a truck in southwest London on July 12, 2019, while on her way to a fertility clinic. According to BBC News, it was the U.K.'s first-ever fatal e-scooter crash.

Her boyfriend Jake Hazell, who had given Emily the scooter (and regretted it), told the BBC in February 2020 that, while it's already illegal to operate scooters on public roads, sidewalks and bike paths, more regulations were needed to prevent another tragedy.

"It is an adult toy and obviously there is a risk which comes with it," he said. "Personally speaking, the road had a massive part to play in Emily's accident. The condition of the road was shocking. It wasn't Emily or the driver's fault—and in fact I don't blame the driver whatsoever." In fact, Hazell added, "One week after Emily's death they fixed the road and that for me was gut-wrenching."

An investigation last year determined that the scooter had an underinflated tire and Emily lost control while driving too fast.

Etika

The 29-year-old gamer from Brooklyn, whose real name was Desmond Amofah, vaulted to YouTube stardom with his hot video game takes and amassed more than 130,000 subscribers. Eventually, however, he became known for his erratic behavior, Twitter rants and disturbing comments about death. Fans sensed that something bad had happened after he went missing on June 19, 2019, his last post being a nearly 8-minute video in which he apologized repeatedly for pushing so many people away.

His phone and backpack were found on the Manhattan Bride on June 23 and, the next day, Etika's body was pulled from the East River near Manhattan's South Street Seaport. The medical examiner determined that he had taken his own life.

Grant Thompson

"The King of Random" host, whose channel full of Myth Busters-reminiscent experiments and crafty life hacks lives on in his stead, died in a paragliding accident in Utah after going on an excursion July 29, 2019. His body was found the next day. Thompson was 38.

Police said a change in the wind had seemingly caused his chute to collapse and he was unable to deploy his reserve chute before plunging 100 feet to the ground.

Pedro Ruiz III

La MonaLisa, Ruiz and Monalisa Perez's YouTube channel featuring snippets from their daily life and silly pranks (Perez giving Ruiz a donut dusted with baby powder instead of powdered sugar, etc.) hadn't really taken off, so the Minnesota couple decided to up the ante. 

Ruiz planned to inaugurate a new channel, Dammit Boy, with a video of Perez shooting him in the chest through an inch-and-a-half-thick hardback encyclopedia. He had practiced by shooting at another thick book to ensure it would stop a bullet.

"My channel is going to consist of a lot of crazy stuff," the 22-year-old Ruiz said in June 2017 in what was intended to be Dammit Boy's debut video. "Entertainment just for you guys. My thing is crazy...With this being my first video, I hope to capture all my audience, like that," he said, snapping his fingers.

"I can't do this babe, I am so scared. My heart is beating…" Perez said as he encouraged her to shoot. "Babe, if I kill you what's going to happen to my life? Like, no this isn't okay… I don't want to be responsible." He assured her it would be fine, so long as she hit the book (where he had scribbled in the middle, "plz hit here") and she pulled the trigger.

"Oh, s--t," Ruiz said as he realized he had been shot. He was dead before he could be airlifted to a hospital.

"I really have no idea what they were thinking," Norman County Sheriff Jeremy Thornton told the New York Times. "I just don't understand the younger generation on trying to get their 15 minutes of fame."

A transcript from the never-posted video was part of a criminal case against Perez, who was sentenced to 180 days in jail after pleading guilty to second-degree manslaughter. Also as part of her reported plea deal, she was forbidden from profiting in any way from her truly bizarre story and barred for life from possessing a firearm.

She resumed vlogging in July 2018.

In a video called "It's Not Just Easy, which attracted more than 12,000 views, Perez said, "A sadness came over me deeply, it feels like. I miss Pedro a lot, guys. I've really learned to not show any of my emotions. I've really suppressed all of my feelings inside of me because I don't want to feel anything. It's really hard for me to get emotional now...I do cry, but not often. Especially not in front of people."

Messy Mya

"What happened at the New Orleans?"

The voice asking that poignant question as Beyoncé's "Formation" video kicks off with the singer perched on top of a half-submerged cop car, belonged to Messy Mya, a YouTube star who was murdered in November 2010, shot to death after attending a baby shower for the son he was expecting with his girlfriend. His real name was Anthony Barre and he was 22.

The comedian and bounce rapper had became a polarizing local celebrity with his videos that showed him roaming around the city, cracking jokes, more or less harassing passersby and ranting about people he didn't like, but also commenting on post-Hurricane Katrina life.

"You know everybody watch this camera," he said in one video. "You got to understand how powerful this camera is. Understand your words on this camera. Understand that people not only from New Orleans is watching this video, bitch, they got people from Milwaukee."

According to NOLA.com, hours before his death he had paid tribute to a deceased friend on Facebook, writing, "I'll be there soon."

He unwittingly went viral in death when a photo of his body was leaked online, which is how most of his fans got the news.

A 24-year-old man confessed to the killing and spent three years in prison, including 18 months in psychiatric care, but was released in 2013 after new evidence was found proving he wasn't present when the shooting occurred. The man's attorney told NOLA.com that his client was bipolar and hadn't been on his medication when he confessed. 

Caleb Logan "Bratayley"

The family known by their vlog-star name, the Bratayleys, were a big hit with the YouTube crowd with their kid-friendly antics unfolding online, racking up over 1.5 million subscribers.

But most people first heard of the Bratayleys when 13-year-old son Caleb Logan LeBlanc died suddenly—of natural causes, the family said—in October 2015 and no other information was immediately forthcoming. 

"We know you tune in to watch each day and eagerly anticipate new videos, but ask that you bear with us while we deal with this tragedy as a family," mom Katie LeBlanc wrote in confirming the news on Instagram, which was so sad and shocking that at first fans thought the account must have been hacked.

The family later shared that Caleb died of a previously undetected heart condition, which prompted them to have his two sisters, Hayley and Jules (who used to go by Annie professionally), screened for disease, and their hearts looked normal. "Caleb didn't have any symptoms so the doctor said there was nothing we could have done differently," read a post from the family that November.

Looking to quell lingering speculation that something more nefarious had happened to Caleb, according to Salon, local police issued a statement saying there was nothing suspicious or possibly criminal about his death.

The Bratayley channel still has more than 7.3 million subscribers despite what appeared to be the family's November 2019 sign-off from posting new content, but Caleb's siblings have since branched out on their own. Jules LeBlanc, 16, a singer and gymnast who starred on several productions on YouTube's Brat network is now on the Nickelodeon show Side Hustle (and has 4.1 million YouTube subscribers of her own), while 12-year-old Hayley LeBlanc, who co-starred with her sister on Brat's Chicken Girls, is getting there, with 1.54 million.

Christina Grimmie

She earned wider acclaim competing on The Voice in 2014, but Grimmie first found an audience on YouTube, where her covers of songs by artists such as Rihanna, Bruno Mars and Sia attracted over a million subscribers.

A 2010 cover with fellow YouTuber Sam Tsui of Nellie's "Just a Dream" went viral, attracting over 116 million views, after which she signed on as a backup singer for Selena Gomez.

So, Grimmie was used to keeping up with fans and admirers on social media long before The Voice won her millions more fans. 

It was a deranged fan who shot and killed her while she was signing autographs and posing for selfies following a performance in Orlando at The Plaza Live in June 2016. Authorities were told afterward that the gunman had become obsessed with Grimmie over the past year. He thought the singer was his "soulmate" and he "watched everything having to do with her." But, according to a friend of the shooter, he had never talked about guns or harming Grimmie.

Grimmie's brother tackled the shooter, who then killed himself.

Alexey Lyakh, Megan Scraper and Ryker Gamble

The YouTube travel channel High on Life's stated aim was to "inspire our viewers to get out and explore the world," and featured lots of climbing, diving, plunging and other enviably adventurous activity amid gorgeous scenery. But in July 2018, Scraper and vloggers Gamble and Lyakh fell almost 100 feet to their deaths while swimming atop Shannon Falls in British Columbia.

Apparently Scraper, Lyakh's girlfriend, fell first, plunging into another pool of water down below, and in an attempt to save her Gamble and Lyakh were swept away as well.

"It looks beautiful, it's a sunny day, but given the extensive water flow that comes off the mountains, and the number of incidents that we've had in the Squamish area lately, people just need to be prepared," Cpl. Sascha Banks of the Squamish Royal Canadian Mounted Police said in a statement to the Vancouver Sun after their bodies had been recovered.

On June 8, 2019, Gamble's partner Alissa Hansen posted a tribute to him, one of many from the past year, concluding, "There really is no antidote / I hope you can hear me / It's hard to be strong all the time / I just wish you could be here beside me, looking at the ocean / It's beautiful."

Nasim Aghdam

The frustrated (and ultimately disturbed) vlogger claimed that YouTube—which had just changed its ad revenue sharing policy—was preventing her videos raging against animal cruelty and advocating a vegan lifestyle from being seen and making money.

"I'm being discriminated and filtered on YouTube," Aghdam lamented online. "And I'm not the only one."

On April 3, 2018, she opened fire at the company's San Bruno, Calif., headquarters. Three people were wounded before she fatally shot herself.

"This is a significant concern in our new social media culture," Thomas G. Plante, professor of psychology at Santa Clara University, told the San Jose Mercury News at the time. "Folks see others becoming rich and famous overnight via YouTube and other similar social media outlets and they conclude that they can too. When things don't work out as planned, many become despondent that their fantasies have not been realized."

"If I was a betting man I would put my money on more of these stories in the future," Plante said. "It is chilling indeed."

Wu Yongning

In November 2017, the martial artist and stuntman—who first gained fame posting videos of his climbing exploits on the Chinese microblogging site Weibo—was being livestreamed when he fell off a 62-story skyscraper in the Hunan capital of Changsha (and the video is still out there showing Wu losing his grip and disappearing from sight).

He was scaling the building, which he did without any sort of safety gear, as part of a "rooftopping" challenge that offered a $20,000 prize—money that he needed because he planned to propose to his girlfriend the next day and wanted to help his sick mother, his family told the Xiaoxiang Morning Herald.

The accident wasn't immediately reported, but fans got worried when he suddenly stopped updating his Weibo account.

A month after his death, Wu's girlfriend tweeted, "Today is December 8th. It makes me think of November 8th, the day you left us and left this world."

Having sued several of the livestreaming apps that provided a forum for Wu's stunts, his family was awarded $4,300 in damages in May 2019 from Huoshan, per the Morning Herald. The Beijing Internet Court ruled that the app maker should bear a "minor responsibility" for the fatal accident.

Lil Peep

The "Falling Down" rapper (born Gustav Åhr) had surpassed online fame by the time he died of a toxic combination of fentanyl and Xanax two weeks after his 21st birthday in November 2017, but YouTube and SoundCloud were where he was first discovered—and he continued to share intimate details of his life on social media.

Hours before he died, he wrote on Instagram, "When I die you'll love me. But then I don't want anything from them at the same time u feel me I don't let people help me but I need help but not when I have my pills but that's temporary. One day maybe I won't die young and I'll be happy? What is happy I always have happiness for like 10 seconds and then it's gone. I'm getting so tired of this."

Alesha MacPhail

The aspiring YouTube star, who had loved watching videos online, was 6 years old when she was murdered while staying with relatives on Scotland's Isle of Bute during her summer vacation in July 2018. (Aaron Campbell, 16 when he sexually assaulted and killed Alesha, has been sentenced to 27 years to life in prison.)

After her funeral in North Lanarkshire, Scotland, Alesha's parents posted a video to YouTube of her chattering away happily about pasta and recipes.

"Alesha always wanted to be a youtube blogger and now unfortunately my darling baby girl will no longer be able to become a youtube blogger so I ask for the power or everyone to share this video as far as it can go and her dream come true for her," her mother wrote on social media.

The original video has been viewed more than 69,000 times. Comments have been disabled, because... YouTube commenters.

After James Charles and Tati Westbrook publicly feuded last month, with supporters and haters rushing to their respective corners to throw daggers, prompting Charles to cancel a tour and lose 1 million followers, fellow YouTuber and former Amazing Race contestant Joey Graceffa admitted he was relieved that nothing much, much worse happened than a war of words.

"I mean, what he went through is something that no human should ever have to experience, like, that level of intensity," Graceffa told ET in May. "It's surprising that he didn't like, kill himself. And I feel like it's going to get to that point where someone who isn't as strong as James is going to get to the point where they believe what people are saying."

The Internet star, who was promoting a jewelry line called Crystal Wolf, knows what it's like to be under virtual attack. He stuck his foot in his mouth in 2013 when he took to his vlog to rant about being towed, only to have the YouTube user responsible for the tow reveal—with a photographic receipt—that Graceffa had been squarely blocking his driveway.

"I remember when I had my scandal," he continued, "I had those thoughts too—'Oh my god, people really hate me, maybe I should kill myself.' So, I feel like it could get to that point and cancel culture needs to tone it down."

Update, 7:55 a.m. PT: The NYC chief medical examiner's office determined that Etika's death was a suicide by drowning.

(Originally published June 26, 2019, at 3 a.m. PT)

If you or someone you know needs help, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).